I have fond memories of attending Baltimore Orioles, Colts, Bullets and Clippers games during my childhood.  We even had season tickets for a few years for the Baltimore Blast indoor soccer team.  Of these five professional sports teams, the Baltimore Orioles are the only one still around. I still keep up with the Orioles a bit and on occasion, wear an Oriole’s hat—even on the streets of New York.  It makes it easier since they haven’t been real American league East competitors for years.

I followed the Colts and even attended a Colts vs Oakland Raiders playoff game when I was a kid.  I remember wearing my Johnny Unitas then Bert Jones football jerseys on game days for years.  When I was in St. Louis for college, the team was “kidnapped” in the middle of the night to Indianapolis.  I couldn’t bring myself to become an Indianapolis Colts fan.  Good thing I never took to the Cardinals—they suffered a similar fate—relocating to Arizona.

The Baltimore Clippers and the Baltimore Bullets are similarly no more.  The Clippers of the AHL—The American Hockey League—played at the Baltimore Civic Center from 1962 to 1976. I attended a few of their hockey games as well. When they left, I sort of followed the Washington Capitals. The Caps played their home games at the Capital Centre, in Landover, Maryland from 1974 to 1997.  By the time they moved to the Capital One Arena in Washington, D.C, I was long gone.

The Bullets bring back good memories—I attended a few games with my late grandfather, Arthur.  Then, the Bullets too “relocated.”  In 1973, they moved to Landover, Maryland, played a season as the “Capital Bullets,” and in 1974 became the Washington Bullets.  I stopped actively following the team, but not the  fascinating and emotional story of their name change, which took place in 1995, the year Jewish owner Abe Pollin decided to change the name to the Washington Wizards.  I thought of this story about 7 years ago, when crossing the border in Eilat, Israel in to Jordan, and again a few days ago when Deni Avdija, an Israeli 19-year-old, was drafted #9 by the…Washington Wizards.

Pollin and the late Israeli Prime minister, Yitzhak Rabin were dear friends. As Pollin recounts in this fascinating New York Times story, he received a call in 1968 from the Israeli Embassy in Washington. “They heard I had a tennis court.  They asked if I would like to play with the new ambassador, Yitzhak Rabin. Oh, boy. We became friends. His wife. My wife. Our children. Last summer I took my whole family to Israel to see him.”  This explains the photo I saw of Rabin on the wall at the Wadi Araba Crossing or Yitzhak Rabin Crossing, the border crossing between Aqaba, Jordan and Eilat, Israel.  There is an amazing photos of Rabin—in his tennis clothes!

When the Israeli Prime Minster was assassinated in November, 1995, his dear friend, Abe Pollin-who had been toying with changing the name of his basketball team from Bullets for months—decided to move up the date of the announcement of a name change.  He made the decision while flying back from Rabin’s funeral.  His dear friend had just been killed by bullets.  “Bullets connote killing, violence, death,” Pollin said. “Our slogan used to be, ‘Faster than a speeding bullet.’ That is no longer appropriate.”

Since then, the Washington Bullets have been the Washington Wizards.  I suspect that Yitzhak Rabin z’l would be smiling to learn that now, a young Israeli who promises to be a great role model and emissary of Israel, will play for the team that the late Mr. Pollin, who died in 2009 at age 86, owned for 46 years! Pollin was the owner of a number of professional sports teams including the Washington Capitals, the Washington Mystics (WNBA), and the Wizards.

We welcome Deni Avdija to Washington. I was lucky enough to cover the NBA draft for the Jewish News Syndicate.   Seeing Avdija smiling and wearing his Washington Wizards hat, got me very excited. I think I am returning to my roots, sort of!

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There are two things you don’t hear much about during the Covid pandemic—new businesses opening and new job opportunities for people with disabilities.  (Bakers) hats off to Shiri Reuveni-Ullrich, the founder and president and the amazing team of Rising Above Bakery in Chestnut Ridge, New York! The 501(c)(3) non-profit organization will train and employ people with disabilities.  

Reuveni-Ulrich, a speech therapist who worked with students in the kitchen for years, developed a cookie line which provided work opportunities for people with disabilities.   “After establishing our baking routines, I noticed how much the students open up in the kitchen. Nonverbal students started sounding their voices, laughing, singing, expressing their true self. From there the road was paved to combine all my passions into one focal point- thus the bakery,” reports Reuveni-Ulrich.

Reuveni-Ullrich notes that “over 80% of adults with intellectual disabilities do not have paid employment in their communities” and adds, “At Rising Above Bakery, we believe that everyone should have a fighting chance to learn a skill that leads to personal empowerment and even to steady employment opportunities.”  

Plans for a brick-and-mortar bakery that would employ individuals with different abilities as equal members of the team as well as teach baking skills are still in the works. At this, they are creating a cottage bakery that will offer workshops and classes, centered on “teaching within a loving community atmosphere available for New York and New Jersey residents.” The goal is to prepare new bakers for independency in the kitchen. 

They have launched a Kickstart Challenge and hope to raise $20,000 to get the bakery up and running.

Check out this short video to learn more.

It is always refreshing to see more training and employment opportunities for people with disabilities.  It is especially praiseworthy that Rising Above Bakery is opening during these difficult times.  Please check out my growing list of creative job sites for people with disabilities. I have visited 30 or so and have another 150 on my list still to visit! 

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Best Webinars During Pandemic Are Short, Focused and Have Rich Content.  Thank You, Dr. Stephen Shore!

Raise your hand if you are on your 100th educational webinar this pandemic!.   We are all getting smarter by the minute, thanks to an abundance of webinars, offered by so many wonderful organizations and individuals.   I have written about some in this blog.  I have learned from Temple Grandin, Next for Autism, Access Israel, RespectAbility and more.  Some last exact an hour (ideal), and some last up to five hours (with no built in bathroom break—arrgggg!),

Thank you, Shelly Christensen of Inclusion Innovations and Gabrielle Kaplan-Mayer of Jewish Learning Venture for offering an awesome 29 minute, 53 second session with Dr. Stephen Shore on The 4 A’s of Autism—all part of the series, “Everyone’s Welcome: A Fresh Conversation About Disability.”  View it here

For more info on upcoming webinars, click here.

Dr. Shore is always engaging, informative and clear.  He is a professor of special education at Adelphi University and he is autistic himself.  He shared his story, then shared the 4 A’s—Awareness, Acceptance, Appreciation and Action, and answered questions about employment, changing mindset about people with autism, and about the term autistic.   Enjoy!

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Nearly every Friday afternoon, I receive a phone call from an old friend wishing me “Shabbat Shalom.”  In this day and age when few people pick up the phone to ask and truly care about how another person is doing, it is very refreshing.  Even on a busy Friday with Shabbat starting just after 4 pm, I look forward to Jeremy’s call.

I suspect I am not the only person who benefits from and appreciates Jeremy and his many fine qualities.  This became clear during a recent event sponsored by Beth Sholom Congregation and Talmud Torah in Potomac, Maryland.  Assistant Rabbi, Eitan Cooper had planned to host Jeremy at the shul’s yearly Disabilities Awareness and Inclusion Program, but Covid led to a shift to a virtual program.  Nearly 100 people were captivated by Jeremy’s sincerity, openness and passion as he spoke with Rabbi Cooper and the community about disabilities—his own and in general– inclusion and his personal Jewish journey. Jeremy received applause when Rabbi Cooper explained his role working in a supply center of a local hospital.  Jeremy was proudly wearing a sticker noting that he is a valued and essential worker—he has been going to work each day (except for Shabbat!) during the pandemic.

Jeremy grew up in a very committed Jewish family in the Washington, DC suburbs. I have known Jeremy for nearly 20 years many years as part of the Camp Ramah in New England community.   I worked with Jeremy in the Tikvah Program, and led a trip to Israel with Jeremy and several others nearly 20 years ago.

Jeremy spoke about what inclusion in the Jewish community really means.  He described how he was warmly embraced and welcome in to community member’s homes when he lived in New Haven, CT as part of a training program.  Jeremy was also warmly welcomed in to the Yale University Slifka Center community by students and by rabbis, and by rabbis and families in the larger community. Jeremy spoke fondly about a former New Haven, Chabad Rabbi, Yossi Hodakov, and by many Chabad Rabbis in the DC area.  Jeremy has shared with me that he regularly davens and (pre-Covid) eats with the loving Chabad Israel Center community close to his home.

David Ervin, Chief Executive Officer of the Jewish Foundation for Group Homes (JFGH), noted how hard it is to follow Jeremy as a speaker!  The JFGH provides individuals with developmental disabilities and/or chronic mental disorders with the opportunity to live independently within the community.

Everybody should find time on this short Friday to watch the inspiring interview with Jeremy and to pick up the phone to wish a friend or family member, “Shabbat Shalom.”  Thanks Jeremy for being such a great teacher!

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